Tai National Park
Tai National Park protects one of the last major undisturbed tracts of vast primary forest that once stretched across present-day Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, and with it a rich store of flora and fauna, many now rare elsewhere. Scientists in the dense moist evergreen forests of this 1,350-square-mile (3,500-km2) U.N. Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site are studying tool-use and other behavior among the large chimp population, paralleling pioneering studies of dry-forest chimps by Jane Goodall in East Africa.
Pygmy hippopotami bathe in forest ponds alongside tiny, spotted, rabbit-like water chevrotains or mouse-deer, most primitive living ruminants, virtually unchanged in 30 million years—once worldwide, now only in a few places in Africa and Southeast Asia.
Fruits and flowers are ever-present in this lush setting where temperatures average 80°F (26°C) most of the year and, while December–February is drier, no month is without rain. Food is always available for nectar, fruit and insect-eating butterflies, birds, lizards, and primates including chattering red, green, and black-and-white colobus monkeys, sooty mangabeys, vividly patterned Dianas, and a half-dozen others that swing through the 200-foot (60-m) high canopy. Of 150 species of leguminous trees here, 16 percent are endemic. Massive trunks and huge root buttresses spread through the forest floor, covered with mosses, ferns, and fungi, each in itself an ecosystem for many thousands of other organisms.
Forest elephants keep trails open for bushpigs, giant forest hogs, three kinds of scaly-armored pangolins—giant, long-tailed, and tree—an exceptional number and species of small duiker forest antelopes, including diminutive royal antelopes, along with noisy, clucking, endangered whitebreasted guinea fowl. All are vulnerable to ambush from above by leopards and small but fierce golden cats. Alongside flit such moist-forest rarities as Nimba flycatchers, western wattled cuckooshrikes, and yellow-throated olive greenbuls, and along streams, chocolate-backed kingfishers, Liberian black flycatchers, and rufous fishing-owls.
Tai is protected by an 80-square-mile (207-km2) buffer zone which has been proposed for park inclusion. December–February tends to be drier but no month is without rain.
ALSO OF INTEREST
Millions of bats fly in to roost every dusk and out again at dawn in Ehotilé Islands Park, a six island cluster in Aby Lagoon east of Abidjan. Protected recently with help from World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), it’s home also to monkeys, antelopes, waterbirds, manatees.
Monkeys are the totem animal for the small village of Gbetitapea near Man, six hours’ drive west from Yamoussoukro, and every day hundreds, mostly monas and Dianas—now scarce throughout West Africa—come for their daily handout with a good time had by both monkeys and human visitors. Cascade, a beautiful waterfall in a nearby bamboo forest, attracts large numbers of iridescent dragonflies and butterflies.
Isle of the Chimpanzees is an island populated by a small band of chimps in a lagoon about 2 1⁄2 miles (4 km) from Grand Lahou. Visitors can rent a boat to go out and see them.
Poaching is still a threat to many reserves, as are logging and gold prospecting. In some places promises to help local villages with schools and other infrastructure have not been kept, leading to resentment such as that which caused neighboring hunters and farmers to threaten rangers, destroy park stations, kill animals, and force closure of Abokouamekro reserve near Yamoussoukro.
Most international visitors fly into Abidjan, the country’s commercial capital. Yamoussoukro to the north has been the political or administrative capital since 1983. Côte D’Ivoire has one of Africa’s best road systems, also (expensive) car-hire, lodging, and food.
Most national parks are difficult of access to visitors without their own vehicles. Local guides may or may not be required but they are useful, usually easily arranged, and help support the reserves.
Local unrest is still possible—check for current conditions.
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